The memories came rushing back for Reid Carruthers upon his return to Budweiser Gardens.
The Wild Card 2 skip made a point of stepping on Sheet C, the same strip of ice where he won his first Canadian men’s curling title as second for Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton in 2011.
“The building is beautiful, it’s just how I remembered it,” Carruthers said Sunday after an 11-7 win over Jamie Koe and the Northwest Territories. “It’s neat to come back here. Even doing the walk to and from the hotel is the same.”
That memorable season was capped by a world championship. Carruthers will get a chance to go for world gold again later this month.
The Winnipeg skip served as coach of the Kerri Einarson side that recently defended its Canadian women’s title. So he’ll be taking off for the world women’s playdowns in Sweden shortly after the Tim Hortons Brier wraps up.
And if all goes to plan this week at Budweiser Gardens, he’ll again raise the tankard and put on Canada colours at the men’s worlds in April.
“I think our team is capable of winning this thing,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’re the favourites but I’d say we’d be almost like a dark horse in my opinion.
“I have the confidence thinking we could put a run in. We’ve just got to make more shots.”
His team of Derek Samagalski and Connor Njegovan — the front end before the midseason departure of vice Jason Gunnlaugson — are joined by new lead Rob Gordon, who won a world junior bronze in 2016.
They gave up a four-ender to Koe on Sunday before recovering to even their round-robin record at 1-1.
“We’re one of those teams that just kind of hang in there,” Carruthers said. “A 10-end game allows you to have that opportunity to come back. I felt like we had good attitudes out there and it helped us.”
Carruthers scored three points in the sixth end and closed the game with three straight deuces. His rink shot 83 per cent overall, a slight uptick from their performance in a 6-4 opening loss to Northern Ontario’s Tanner Horgan.
The Wild Card 2 crew improved to 2-1 in the evening draw by defeating Nathan Young of Newfoundland and Labrador 7-6, scoring a pivotal three in the fifth end to go ahead 6-3.
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind for Carruthers, who reached the final of the Manitoba playdowns in mid-February but dropped an 8-7 decision to Matt Dunstone.
He was soon off to Kamloops, B.C., for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. A few days after that event wrapped, he travelled to London, Ont., for what he hopes will be another 10-day run to the final Sunday.
“He’s a very busy guy,” Njegovan said. “But at the same time, it does play a big benefit to us because he’s around the arena ice. He’s seeing different surfaces.
“Getting a chance to see the Scotties from a close view is always beneficial for us coming into the Brier.”
In other early games, Alberta’s Kevin Koe defeated Horgan 7-4 and Dunstone walloped Nunavut 14-2. Saskatchewan’s Kelly Knapp posted a 7-3 win over Young.
In the afternoon draw, Canada’s Brad Gushue held off New Brunswick’s Scott Jones 13-9 and Quebec’s Felix Asselin topped Prince Edward Island’s Tyler Smith 7-4.
Brendan Bottcher’s Wild Card 1 side beat Ontario’s Mike McEwen 8-4 and Yukon’s Thomas Scoffin defeated B.C.’s Jacques Gauthier 10-8.
In the evening draw, Alberta’s Koe defeated Knapp 8-4, Matthew Manuel of Nova Scotia topped Koe of the Northwest Territories 8-5, and Horgan edged Nunavut 6-4.
Round-robin play continues through Thursday night. The top three sides in each nine-team pool will qualify for the playoffs starting Friday.
Carruthers, 38, earned the second wild-card berth thanks to his No. 5 position in the Canadian rankings. He won the PointsBet Invitational this season and picked up four second-place finishes.
“The good thing about us is we have a skip who’s been there and won this before,” Njegovan said. “I think that’s honestly sometimes the hardest part when you get into that final weekend.
“Having that experience on our side is very nice and I’m looking forward to giving Reid those shots to win. I think if we do that, we’ll have a good chance to win this.”